Italian company Webuild and its Swiss subsidiary CSC Costruzioni have successfully used a specially designed robot to inspect its new tunnel, which could greatly improve the safety of tunnel workers in the future.
The world’s first robot is called Axel, partly for the acronym Autonomous Exploration Electrified Vehicle and partly in honor of Jules Verne’s main character. Journey to the Center of the Earth. It was used on the Euralpin Lyon Turin Tunnel (TELT), a multi-billion euro project to create an underground high-speed rail line under the Alps between Turin, Italy and Lyon, France.
It was developed by Webuild alongside the Competence Industry Manufacturing 4.0 (CIM 4.0) research center, and is designed to withstand harsh atmospheric conditions. It takes the form of a tractor-like rover, 1.6m wide and 2m long, with four 60cm diameter wheels. It is also an emission-free innovation as it is battery operated.
The prototype is remotely controlled from up to 2 km away by workers who are safely outside the tunnel, reducing the human risk.
It made its first trip to the Nichie La Maddalena site in Turin, the main construction site on the Italian side of the project. Equipped with cameras, sensors and communication antennas, it carried out preliminary inspections of a diagnostic tunnel 3 km long and 6 m in diameter. Reporting with a high level of reliability, Axel ensured that it was environmentally safe for human entry and gave guidance on what provisions would be required for lighting and ventilation. He found the conditions to be around 40°C with 95% humidity.
This work carried out on the Nichie La Maddalena site is in preparation for the digging of the base tunnel, which will be 65 km long. Eventually, the TELT will be part of a longer high-speed train linking Paris and Milan.
The project is part of the European Union’s Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) Mediterranean Corridor initiative, which will increase sustainable mobility by connecting the region’s rail networks and enabling more transport of goods by rail.
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